Mount TamalpaisWithout a hint yet of the coming dawn, the lead police car led the main pack out of the Vallecito Elementary School parking lot, and we were off. The pack was considerably smaller than the 300 rider limit, but given the 10:30 pm finish deadline and the desire to minimize time spent on Marshal-Petaluma road after sunset, a large number of riders had already left. This is a sanctioned option, with riders allowed to check out at any time from 4 am to 6 am, but those starting at 5 am have the advantage police control through the traffic signals early on, not to mention the draft advantage of the pack.
Soon enough we were on Lucas Valley Road, the first climb of the day. In 2005 I'd done this ride without a light, figuring I'd simply utilize the illumination of proximate riders. But that had been an uncomfortable experiment, one which led me to go out too hard on the opening climb as I put too much value staying with the lead group and the lights of the pace vehicle. This year I'd borrowed a friend's NiteRider Newt dual-light system. The difference was amazing: I was able to ride my own pace on that climb. This still put me in sight of the leaders at the top, but only 5 miles into a nominal 200 mile ride, my goal was only to avoid a debt which would require high interest payments in the second half.
My Garmin 500 display wasn't visible (in retrospect I should have hit the "light" button; I wasn't thinking so well), so probably still rode a bit harder than I should have. But not too bad: I could still talk easily enough, a good indicator of being no worse than the low end of Z4.
I found some riders with which to share the pace over the southbound bumps of Nicasio Valley Road, the easy backside of Whites Grade, and then down into Fairfax. By now the day had reluctantly arrived through the low clouds: the first phase of the ride was done.
Usually Bolinas Road: the first climb to Pine Mountain, the rolling descent to the dam, and the climb to Ridgecrest seems like an endless grind. Today, it passed quickly, as I knew there was so much more yet to follow. Along the way, I stopped at the Pine Mountain rest stop, the first of the day, to pack my light into a paper bag for delivery back to the start. Then I hopped on to some passing riders and continued on.
Overcast clouds turned to fog as we hit Ridgecrest, the tree cover condensing the mist into a surprisingly steady rain. But by the second sister, the trees were behind me, and the rain stopped. The morning sun was shining brightly through the thin clouds, and by the intersection with Pan Toll road, I was riding in sunshine.
Here I was tempted to remove my vest, as I was warming quickly, but I was using the pockets, and it wasn't pressing enough for the hassle of transferring everthing to the pockets in my jersey underneath. This would be the last time I'd be tempted to remove the vest in 100 miles. On my legs I had full-length compression tights and high-calf compression socks over my bib shorts and regular socks, while on my upper body I had a long-sleeve undershirt, jersey, and arm warmers (turned inside out to hide the "Alto Velo": still waiting for that Voler order to come in!) in addition to the vest. Crazy amounts of clothing for August, but that's how it goes in San Francisco-Marin.
Soon after the climb to the golf ball (west peak) began, I began to see descending riders, some looking fairly fit. I was worried some of these had been with my start group at 5 am: that was a considerable time gap. But then as I approached the golf ball I saw Bo, the winner of the Terrible Two this year, and I knew everyone ahead of him was likely an early starter. I was riding fairly well, hopefully within myself. In preparation for Terrible Two, Bo did a training ride which included climbing Mount Hamilton Road, descending and reclimbing San Antonio Valley Road (the steep "backside" of Hamilton) four times. That's the sort of suffer-fest which allows a rider to hammer a double. Lacking that sort of disciplined preparation I had to be more careful, so I had no regrets about not matching Bo's pace.
After passing the golf ball, I descended a bit then climbed to the east peak parking lot, where there was a checkpoint. I quickly topped off my bottles with water (one contained Accelerade, the other Spiz, which is a "liquid food"), then back down. It was 7:30 am: a wonderful time to be on the mountain.
Back down upper Ridgecrest, the turn onto Pan Toll was a remarkable transformation. Within a second, I went from uncomfortably warm to cold: the fog-chilled wind blowing up from the coast. I slowed a bit to take inventory, decided I'd be okay, then continued on carefully on the wet roads, the sun now hidden behind the mist.
I feared things would be even worse in Muir Woods, but actually it was slightly warmer there, the roads a bit drier, as I'd passed through the clouds. The second rest stop was here: I ate some fruit, filled my bottles again, and added orange Perpeteum to my remaining chocolate Spiz. This seemed a good idea at the time... but I realized I'd have been better off adding the unflavoured Sustained Energy instead.
I was 50 miles in. The first quarter of the ride was in the bag.
NorthwardA brief hesitation as I wasn't sure which way to go out of the rest stop (I am almost neurotically paranoid about wrong turns), but then I was soon to the Highway 1 intersection. I rode this north, mostly alone over the two significant climbs to Stinson Beach. After passing through that beach town I was overtaken by a group of three. We worked surprisingly well, picking up a few more along the way, and rolled into the rest stop at the Pt. Reyes Station public toilets together. I was much quicker here than the others, however, and (again after some seconds of confusion about which way to go) rolled out alone.
Back on Point Reyes - Petaluma Road (reverse Roasters), past Nicasio Valley Road I rejoined the Marin Century route. Marshall Wall was stacked with riders, mostly 50 k'ers, some walking their bikes. I have to admit this perked me up; what had felt like a slow pace now seemed not so slow.
That is, until I was passed by one guy from that group of three I'd left at the rest stop. Riding a relatively low-cost Performance bike, he motored up the wall. I simply had to let him go: I was keeping my power meter in the 200-230 watt range, a level of effort I thought I could hold on climbs through the day, and couldn't be digging myself deeper than I already had so early in the ride. If he could hold that pace he was fitter than me, and there was nothing to be done about that.
I probably should have reviewed the route sheet ahead of time: I was surprised when we passed Hicks Road without turning. Other riders were returning from the same road. I later learned they had reversed the direction of this portion of the course. In 2005 we'd turned onto Hicks, headed out to Highway 1 on Marshal-Petaluma Road, and returned via Petaluma. This year was the opposite: probably an improvement as it allows a southern leg on Highway 1 along the coast.
Lunch this year was in Petaluma, at mile 93. I got through quickly, only stopping to fill my bottles, down three Endurolytes, and stuff my pockets with some fig bars, dates, and a half-bagel. As I left I found myself again next to Performance guy, but once again, his relentless pace left me behind. A good sign at lunch: the volunteers in the "double century section" (with its powders, potions, and pills) was surprised to see me. There obviously weren't too many doublers ahead. I knew the Webcor pair of Bo H and Brian Buck were well ahead, but they make even quicker use of stops than I do, so were easily missed. But obviously I wasn't too far down.
Mile 100, somewhere in Chileno Valley Road: I was halfway. Of course, I was tired already: I rarely ride 100 miles in a day. But mid-way through a double I just forget about the route and focus on turning the pedals. Turn them enough times, eat and drink, and the finish will arrive.
Performance, Rivendell, and RoubaixSomewhere near here I was caught by a Davis Rider on a Specialized Roubaix and another guy on a Rivendell. They were clicking along at a nice pace, so I joined in. I'd say we worked well together, but I did less pulling than the other two, who were content to zip along. We joined up with first one, later another century rider, making a nice group. As we rode I asked Rivendell why he rode that bike: he seemed stronger than most riders of the brand. He said his wife got it for him and he liked it because with its condiderable mass it was a bit of an equalizer between the two. I told him I appreciated the equalization myself.
We arrived together at Valley Ford rest stop. I stopped here for a can of Coca Cola (part of which I drank, the rest of which I added to my bottles), as well as a few more Endurolytes, then left alone. The Coke worked so well for me at mile 184 of Terrible Two, I wanted to tap into it a bit earlier here.
I never did see the century riders again: the century split off again. But I would rejoin the other two soon enough.
It was after a busy stretch on Highway 1, soon after we turned onto Joy Road. Honestly I don't remember Joy Road from 2005; it wasn't on the route in 2004 (see Felix Wong's route sheets). It gains 1047 feet climbing from Highway 1, much of it steep. The descent is also steep, with potholes overlapping other potholes, not the sort of thing you want to deal with 120 miles in. Actually, I was glad I'd installed latex tubes, which lose around 2 psi per hour: the lower pressure relative to the 105 psi I'd started with took off a bit of edge.
They descended ahead of me, but not too far, and I caught and passed them at the lowest slopes of Coleman Valley Road. Coleman Valley is nasty: sustained 12%+ (feeling steeper from 135 miles in the bank already) followed by a false summit and then two short climbs before the true descent. I just focused on spinning my 36/26, my lowest gear, which took me close to threshold in the 270 watt range. Truth be told I wanted to put up a good number for Strava on this section, a move which would end in tears. But that's for later.
The climb took a bit out of my limited reserves, however, and I was passed by the Rivendell guy on the rolling summit. As he passed, we could see Performance up ahead. Rivendell caught and passed Performance, but I followed at my sustainable pace.
The descent was much nicer than that of Joy, and other than my usual nagging worry about missing a turn, I enjoyed the ride. I caught sight of Performance at a key moment which convinced me I was still on track.
At mile 142, the day had finally began to warm and so as I rode I transferred the odd bits of food I had in my vest pockets into my jersey pockets underneath. Then I removed my vest and stuffed it into my center jersey pocket. From there it was just eight miles or so back at Valley Ford.
I could have skipped this stop, but I wanted more Coke and to try some of the Tums they had at all the rest stops. I was getting some stitches in my chest, and wanted a blast of calcium to see if that would helped. I'm not sure if the Tums helped, but while the stitches continued to be an issue, they never got really bad. On the Coke end I went a bit overboard, putting it in both bottles. Coke should be diluted at least 1:1 with water, more if combined with food, and I was over that concentration. But despite eating a fig bar and dates on the road following Valley Ford, I handled the Coke okay.
150 miles done, 50 to go. We were in the final quarter, but 50 miles is 50 miles is still a long way, longer with tired legs than with fresh legs, no matter how small the fraction of the total.
End GameI didn't see any of my usual company as I left Valley Ford for this second time. Next was the long southern run down Highway 1, which in 2005 had been to the north. There's usually a northern wind on the coast, but today held up to what I'd seen from weather data for the day prior: wind from the south. A block headwind isn't what I really wanted to see at this point, but I just hunkered down and dealt the hand that was there. It was the same for everyone.
The route finally turned left off Highway 1 onto Marshal-Petaluma Road: a rather rude introduction as the grade went from zero to large within just a few pedal strokes. I had just overtaken two century riders at this point, so it was nice to have company for this. But I slogged along at my death-march pace and was on my own again.
At the Walker Creek rest stop I got some water to dilute my remaining Coke, and grabbed more dates. I asked when the next turn was and was told 18 miles. For some reason I found this discouraging; I prefer changing roads to mark progress than staying on the same road mile after mile. I was out quickly, though, putting it out of my head.
It turns out my question was misunderstood and the next turn, onto Hicks Road, wasn't far at all. Hicks soon T'ed into Pt Reyes-Petaluma and I knew I was in the end game. The eastern side of Marshall was easy compared to the eastern "Wall", then the descent and left turn onto Nicasio Valley Road. In 2005 I almost got taken out by an RV in this turn, but today no issue. I was getting really close.
One last rest stop on Nicasio Valley Road. I wanted to blow past but decided to check to see if this was a mandatory checkpoint. Of course, had I checked the route sheet in my pocket I would have known this, but my brain really wasn't working well at all by this point. I had trouble getting anyone's attention, so spent more seconds here than I would have liked.
One more climb to go: Lucas Valley Road. I really wanted to blast this sucker: blitz it at or over threshold, but there simply wasn't anything left. I couldn't even hold 200 watts on the climb, a strong contrast to when I was strong on the final climb of Terrible Two, to Occidental. Instead I just focused on keeping the pedals going, knowing I was almost there.
Fire trucks were moving back and forth on the road near the summit, almost absurdly. One was approaching from behind, siren off, soon after another had descended the opposite direction (also siren off) and I disparately did not want it to pass me, as I knew I'd be much faster on the descent. At the summit, a volunteer pointing a flag at a "dangerous left turns! ride slowly!" sign, I thanked him and began my descent just ahead of the following truck.
The road was in excellent condition, making for solid cornering. I vividly remember getting passed on this descent in 2005 and I vowed to not let that happen again. Despite this, I showed more caution than required in the corners. It turns out there were approximately five crashes on this descent, several requiring medical treatment, despite warning signs at each of the tricky corners. But I didn't have the slightest issue other than that I should have taken it a bit faster.
The last few miles went easily. I was tired, unable to sustain power above Z3, but I could at least get into Z3. I was calculating as I went my chances for a sub-12:30 and it looked good.
DoneI entered the school, crossed under the finishing banner, and with some bystanders cheering I gave a little fist-pump. I was glad to be done. But I wasn't really done until I'd checked in, so after asking directions to check-in, I went up onto the sidewalk, through the expo, and to the check-in table. My watch said "5:26", so 12:26 if we started on time.
"You're #8" the volunteer said. "Eighth?" I responded. I couldn't believe it: that was better than I'd thought. I was 17th finisher in 2005, so that's a nice improvement.
Davis and Rivendell finished soon after. Each of them had clearly been stronger than me but chose to enjoy the day a bit more. Still, my goal going in had been top 10, for whatever that is or is not worth, and I'd hit that goal. So success.
After hanging out at the finish for a few hours, in part waiting for my carpool partner to finish his double (on his 'cross bike!), it was time for the drive back to San Francisco.
I'd managed to do the entire ride without any wrong turns, always a major victory by my standards, but in an RTFM moment I shut down my Edge 500 without first hitting "stop" and "reset". This apparently caused my ride data to get purged. Now I've gone through periods of data aversion where all I want to do is ride, echewing metrology. But this isn't one of those periods: I'm riding well, I'd made a solid effort up Coleman I wanted to Strava-log, and I wanted to see how my power up the opening climbs compared to the power on the final climbs. Losing the data was such a disappointment I devoted an entire blog post to the subject.
Despite my dreadful lack of sleep the night before, I had trouble getting to sleep that night. Too much Coca-Cola, I suspect: a considerable caffeine dose in 20 ounces of the stuff. But part of it may have been the fitful mix of trauma and adrenalin from an extremely full day.
addendum (15 Aug 2010): When results were posted, it turned out I was the eighth finisher, but the seventh fastest time due to the option of alternate start times than the supported 5 am mass-start.